R.I.P. Jonathan Tjarks, 1987-2022: A basketball author with a towering legacy of kindness left behind

I spent a number of sleepless nights wrestling with whether or not I ought to ask Tjarks to take an image. I used to be on my approach all the way down to Texas to look at Recreation 3 of the Western Convention Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors. I had a media credential for the sport, however I actually simply wished to see my pal.

Tjarks had come as much as Chicago and crashed on my sofa a number of occasions after we had been each protecting the McDonald’s All-American Recreation, nevertheless it had been a number of years since I had seen him. Quite a bit had modified since then: he married his spouse Melissa, had his son Jackson, and he minimize out the partying habits we indulged in throughout our 20s. Every little thing in Jon’s life gave the impression to be going nice till he began feeling sick in early 2021.

I came upon about Jon’s prognosis on Twitter the same way everyone else did. He had a particularly uncommon type of most cancers that was already in Stage IV by the point medical doctors recognized it. I keep in mind calling my dad, a household observe physician, after studying Jon’s Tweet and hoping he might give me a motive for optimism. He couldn’t. As a substitute, he simply mentioned it wasn’t good and that he was sorry my pal was going by this. I’m not somebody who cries usually, not even throughout “Titanic,” however I cried like a child shortly after we hung up.

Jon and I talked on the cellphone so much over the following few months, often whereas he was in a hospital room ready to undergo chemo. On the primary name we talked about his situation and the way he was feeling, and caught up on what was happening in my life. However the dialog all the time turned again to basketball. We had bonded whereas protecting the game collectively after we each arrived at SB Nation as younger sportswriters again in 2012. In some way, we had been fortunate sufficient to nonetheless be doing it a decade later. Our talks would go from Giannis’ run by the 2021 playoffs to USC’s guards letting down Evan Mobley to Jon’s skepticism about Cade Cunningham’s NBA ceiling to no matter philosophical development Tjarks thought was coming to the sport subsequent.

We virtually by no means talked about his well being. I’d finish our calls by telling him that I used to be praying for him and considering of his household, nevertheless it by no means appeared like he wished it go any additional. As a substitute, the one updates I’d get had been those he’d begrudgingly give throughout his podcast appearances with Invoice Simmons or J. Kyle Mann or Ethan Strauss. I knew that the transient spell of remission he had a pair months earlier was over, and that he was making an attempt some experimental remedy that at the least gave him a pathway to a considerably regular life for a number of extra months.

When the Mavericks blew out the Phoenix Suns in Recreation 6 of their second spherical sequence, I made a decision I used to be reserving a flight if the Mavs one way or the other pulled the upset in Recreation 7. The Mavs throttled Phoenix from the opening minutes of that subsequent sport, and I knew I needed to get all the way down to Texas.

We acquired dinner earlier than the sport, and I used to be a bit nervous heading into it. What do you say to somebody you care about as they stare down the tip of their life? After all, Tjarks was as welcoming and comforting as ever. We talked so much about Chet Holmgren that night time, however by no means as soon as about his combat with most cancers.

Tjarks regarded somewhat thinner and extra pale than earlier than, however all the things else about our night felt fairly regular. That’s why asking for an image felt so unusual. Taking an image with a buddy ought to be a small gesture, nevertheless it was additionally simply completely exterior the traditional scope of our friendship. I used to be nervous about what it would sign if I introduced it up: would he assume I used to be searching for social media clout? Was the insinuation that I’d submit it after he died?

Sooner or later round halftime, I requested him if I might ship a selfie to my buddies John and Kevin, fantastic basketball writers in their very own proper, who Tjarks knew from Twitter. “After all,” he mentioned. About an hour later, Andrew Wiggins posterized Luka Doncic, and the Warriors had gone up 3-0 within the sequence. I informed Tjarks it was nice to see him, and that he needed to come as much as Chicago once more quickly.

Tjarks confirmed up at my entrance door with a backpack and a bible. He gave me the bible and requested if I believed in God.

I used to be residing in a home in Wicker Park with 4 of my closest pals on the time. Tjarks had crashed with us as soon as earlier than a pair years earlier for the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Recreation. I sat subsequent to Jon on the practices with eyes on my Chicago boys Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, on the time two of the top-3 rated players in the class. It took Tjarks about 5 minutes to understand they wouldn’t minimize it within the NBA. As a substitute, he was enamored with Karl-Anthony Cities and Myles Turner, bigs who might stretch the ground, and in Cities’ case, possessed some actual passing chops, too. Tjarks beloved nothing greater than an enormous man with guard abilities.

There was no bible in his hand throughout that first go to, however I might inform Jon was trying to find one thing. He had been let go at SB Nation a pair months earlier. Primarily, I acquired a promotion that he wished, and he didn’t have a lot curiosity in being on the firm after that. I’m certain Jon was conscious that he was a considerably higher basketball thinker and superior author than I’d ever be, however he by no means held it in opposition to me. As a substitute, he gave me concepts for tales and impressed me to like the sport as a lot as he did. After these practices, we’d keep up late within the night time watching the NBA and speaking about life. Jon knew his calling was to put in writing about basketball, however for the time being he didn’t have an outlet for it.

Jon determined he was going to put in writing a e-book on the 2014 NBA Draft known as the “Sample of Basketball,” and he later began a Blogspot with the identical identify. Free of getting to work for anybody however himself, Tjarks’ writing soared. I keep in mind these items criticizing Chris Paul and Steve Nash as standouts. Tjarks already had following after we labored collectively, however out of the blue his tales had been getting extra consideration than ever. To pay the payments, Jon picked up a job delivering drinks to shops round Dallas. It was round this time that he additionally determined to dedicate his life to Christianity.

By the point he made his journey to Chicago for the 2016 McDonald’s Recreation, he had simply introduced that he had accepted a job at The Ringer. I keep in mind him telling me in regards to the first time he talked to Invoice Simmons and in contrast it to Kanye assembly Jay-Z. “I do know you, however solely from the TV.” The best way he grinded to that chance by writing for nobody however himself was so satisfying to look at.

To that time, I largely thought-about Tjarks the man who taught me about the advantages of the stretch 4. Now he was in my house placing me on the spot for solutions to life’s largest questions. I mumbled my approach by some awkward response about being raised Catholic, and thanked him for the bible, even when I didn’t have a lot curiosity in it. Then it was off to look at extra hoops.

A number of the fondest recollections of my profession had been Jon and I recording podcasts with my buddy Scott after these McDonald’s practices. We’d watch a category that included Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Lonzo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, and Markelle Fultz go at one another in scrimmages, after which let our opinions fly at my kitchen desk. I keep in mind restarting the podcast a number of occasions as a result of we had been making one another snort too arduous to do a correct intro. I keep in mind Jon pacing across the room carrying a baseball bat and doing verify swings as we had been recording, with Scott and I wildly gesturing for him to get nearer to the mic. That was actually peak Tjarks: he was by no means one for placing a slick coat on issues, all he wished was to say and listen to an fascinating take.

Tjarks performed pickup with my pals and I throughout that keep, too. Jon was ok to play AAU ball rising up. He informed me in regards to the second he realized he didn’t have a future as a participant — going up in opposition to Darrell Arthur in a match, and getting dunked on repeatedly. Thankfully for Jon, there have been no Darrell Arthurs at my pickup run, which was largely a combination of nerds and stoners. Jon might nonetheless play: at 6’5”, he had an extremely excessive really feel for the sport, and beloved to facilitate out of the excessive submit. I additionally discovered it extremely entertaining that Tjarks had essentially the most broke three-point shot possible, as a result of he solely preferred prospects who might shoot. Sorry to tear your perimeter sport now that you just’re gone, my pal, nevertheless it’s true.

What I actually keep in mind about that pickup run was the way in which Jon pumped everybody up. I’ve all the time been a reasonably trash basketball participant: I’m quick and gradual with no left hand, and may solely be described as “actively dangerous” on the defensive finish. That night time, although, a number of of my pictures fell by the web. “Get some!” Tjarks yelled each time I hit a shot.

That phrase nonetheless comes out within the pickup run to this present day each every so often. I’m unsure anybody else remembers that Tjarks introduced it into our lexicon, however I’ll always remember it.

Jonathan Tjarks was my favourite basketball author. He noticed the sport so clearly, and one way or the other his writing fashion was much more coherent. The most effective writers are those who can convey huge concepts utilizing as few phrases as attainable. That was Jon. I do know that if I used to be the one lifeless of most cancers proper now, and he was writing a tribute to me, his story would half as lengthy and twice as affecting.

For as nice as Jon was at writing about basketball, the work he did writing about his mortality and his religion was even higher. He revealed two unbelievable items at The Ringer: “The Long Night of the Soul” and “Does My Son Know You?” I’ll in all probability take into consideration each for the remainder of my life. On one among our calls, he informed me this metaphor about driving off a cliff that hit me like a ton of bricks. Then there it was in his first of the 2 tales:

Top-of-the-line metaphors I’ve heard for contemporary life is that it’s a automotive headed towards a cliff’s edge whereas billboards line each side of the highway, blocking the motive force’s view. These billboards are all of the distractions that society has to supply. Netflix. Sports activities. Motion pictures. Music. Every little thing you eat to keep away from eager about the place you’re finally headed. And people billboards cowl your view till the tip of the highway, when out of the blue the cliff approaches. Then, as your automotive is flying within the air, that’s once you begin eager about dying and the that means of life.

As a Christian, I felt like I used to be ready for that second. However there’s nothing that may really try this. It’s the lengthy night time of the soul. It’s a model of a widely known phrase that I usually consider. I don’t care how sturdy your religion is. Staring into the abyss will make you query all the things. I want getting by it had been so simple as quoting a number of Bible verses after which going to mattress.

For some time, I satisfied myself Jon Tjarks would depart behind an even bigger legacy in dying than when he was alive. That’s how monumental his writing about most cancers felt. In the end, I feel that was simply one of many levels of grief. I used to be definitely no stranger to bargaining, both. When his most cancers was briefly in remission and he was again going to video games and taking part in pickup, I prayed that he would make it 20 extra years. Jon and I are the identical age, each born in 1987, and making it to 55 appeared honest sufficient to me. Sadly, most cancers drives a tough discount.

I arrived at acceptance whereas standing knee deep within the Pacific Ocean over Labor Day weekend. I had gone out to San Diego with my pals, and once I arrived I had a textual content from Jon. “What do you make of the Mitchell stuff?”

I told him I loved it for Cleveland. He hit me together with his ideas, too.

The following day, I acquired a textual content from Sean Highkin expressing dismay on the newest Tjarks replace. I headed to Melissa’s blog, and my heart sunk.

Saturday Jon awakened with lowered feeling in his legs, and Sunday he awakened and couldn’t really feel them in any respect. Monday night his speech began slurring and we had been very involved. We went to the hospital from PT/OT rehab to get him checked out. They did a CT and ordered a stat MRI. At 3am Jon had the MRI of his mind and complete backbone. It confirmed {that a} tumor that was teeny tiny two weeks in the past is now compressing his twine once more at T8. He’s completely paralyzed from the stomach down. One other tumor is urgent on his hypoglossal nerve, which controls tongue motion, so half of his tongue is paralyzed. It’s actually arduous for him to swallow, and his speech is considerably slurred. Consuming and speaking take a ton of vitality now. His tumors in his liver, cranium, and elsewhere have grown considerably. Certainly one of our medical doctors mentioned that he had solely seen most cancers develop this shortly as soon as earlier than. He’s been in observe for many years. What are the percentages.

I despatched Jon a pair extra texts, however he by no means responded. Just a few days later, he had handed. Even whereas actually on his deathbed, Jon was nonetheless texting me about Donovan Mitchell’s match on the Cavs. He nonetheless wished to keep up a correspondence. I can’t consider something extra Tjarks than that.

To my data, that is the final interview Tjarks gave. His perspective about life was all the time so sharp, even in his remaining days.

Tjarks beloved Dallas the way in which I really like Chicago. I fell in love with basketball by rising up with Michael Jordan — for him, it was Dirk Nowitzki. Jon’s first foray into writing got here on web message boards defending Dirk in his highschool years. I understand how rewarding that 2011 Mavs title was for him. Jon attended College of Texas and beloved his Longhorns. His time there overlapped with Kevin Durant’s one-and-done season, and he was all the time an enormous fan of KD. Tjarks additionally beloved historical past and infrequently discovered a technique to weave it into his tales. He read more books than basically every writer I know. Jon additionally beloved Jesus. His story about finding God while on Ecstasy at an EDM concert is a must-read.

It’s not that honest that Tjarks doesn’t get to proceed watching and writing about Luka Doncic. His writing on Luka was always so good. I can’t consider I don’t get to select his mind on 2023 No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, as a result of it looks like he may very well be the personification of all the things Tjarks wished in a basketball participant. Even in his remaining months, Tjarks was happening podcasts evaluating Chet Holmgren to Kevin Garnett. Who else was doing that? Jon had such a novel approach of seeing the sport, and as Zach Lowe correctly noted in his phenomenal tribute to Jon on a recent podcast, Tjarks was additionally by no means involved about being mistaken.

This all pales compared to the truth that Jon received’t get to be round to see Jackson develop up. He loved talking about his boy so much over the last few years.

Jon is survived by Melissa and Jackson. Our friendship predates his marriage, and sadly I didn’t get to satisfy his household on my latest journey all the way down to Dallas. In reflecting on Jon’s life and dying during the last week, I stored being struck by how fortunate he was to have Melissa by his aspect as he went by this. She is an incredible author herself, and her updates over the last year meant so much to the people who cared about Jon. Thank God they each had their religion, too.

I’ve been eager about that bible Jon gave me so much these days. After he left city, I gave it to my mother, a preschool bible instructor herself, and he or she donated it. Somebody on the market, presumably within the southwest suburbs of Chicago, has a bible with Jonathan Tjarks’ identify on the within. I hope it means as a lot to them because it did to him.

Relaxation in peace, Jonathan Tjarks: an enormous man with a sort soul, an awesome author and unbelievable thinker, pal to anybody who got here into his life.

If you want to donate to the family of Jonathan Tjarks, here’s a GoFundMe page.

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